Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ouija Board vs. Facilitated Communication Board

An Ouija Board:

A Facilitated Communication Board:

In Ouija boards as well, two people control it, touching the planchette.

This is not where the similarity ends. I believe that this, as practiced, is nonsense, superstition and a violation of Tamim Tihyeh.

For more about this, see this discussion forum on GlobalYeshiva, in which I am a vocal participant.

Daf Yomi Yevamot 116a/121b: More Miracles in Halacha

Revisiting the topic.
{Yevamot 116a}
ההוא גיטא דאישתכח בסורא וכתב ביה הכי בסורא מתא אנא ענן בר חייא נהרדעא פטר ותריך ית פלוניתא אינתתיה ובדוק רבנן מסורא ועד נהרדעא ולא הוה ענן בר חייא אחרינא לבר מענן בר חייא מחגרא דהוה בנהרדעא
ואתו סהדי אמרי כי איכתיב האי גיטא ענן בר חייא מחגרא גבן הוה בנהרדעא
אמר אביי אפילו לדידי דחיישינא הכא לא חיישינא
הא קאמרי סהדי דההוא יומא כי איכתב האי גיטא ענן בר חייא מחגרא גבן הוה בנהרדעא מאי קא בעי בסורא
אמר רבא אפי' לדידי דלא חיישינא הכא חיישינא
דלמא בגמלא פרחא אזל
אי נמי בקפיצה
אי נמי מילי מסר
כדאמר להו רב לספריה וכן אמר להו רב הונא לספריה כי איתינכו בשילי כתובו בשילי ואף על גב דמסירי לכו מילי בהיני וכי איתינכו בהיני כתובו בהיני ואף על גב דמסירי לכו מילי בשילי
והלכתא כרבא
There was a certain get that was found in Sura, upon which was written as follows: In Sura the city, I, Anan bar Chiyya of Nehardea, release and divorce Plonit my wife.
And the Rabbis searched from Sura until Nehardea and there was no other Anan bar Chiyya except for Anan bar Chiyya of Chagra {so in other words there was this one other person}, who was at that time in Nehardea. And witnesses came and said, "when this get was written, Anan bar Chiyya of Chagra was with us in Nehardea."
Abaye said: Even according to me that I worry {about another Yitzchak} here, I do not worry. For witnesses have says that on that day, when this get was written, Anan bar Chiyya of Chagra was with in Nehardea, so he could not have been in Sura {which usually would take two days' journey}.
Rava said: Even according to me, that I do not worry, here I do worry. Lest he traveled by flying camel. Alternatively, with a {miraculous} leap. Alternatively, perhaps he gave over words {instructions to do so}. As Rav said to his scribes, and so did Rav Huna say to his scribes, "when you are at Shili, write "in Shili," even though you received the instructions in Hini. And when you are in Hini, write "in Hini," even though you received the instructions in Shili.
And the halacha is like Rava.
I wrote in an earlier post about how halacha sometimes considers the possibility of miracles in determining halacha. Thus, perhaps there is kefitzat haderech, or a flying camel. This is related to the attempt in Eruvin to show that there is no techum over ten tefachim, because the 7 rulings came from Sura to Pumpedita in one day, when travel past techum was forbidden, so it must have been Eliyahu haNavi over ten handbreadths, with the rejection that perhaps it was Yosef the demon. Here, too, we have two miraculous possibilities, though with a concluding possibility entirely within the realm of derech hateva. (I wonder where the end of Abaye and Rava's statement is, though, and if there is any setamaitic elaboration, especially since three alternatives are given within Rava's statement.)

In contrast, we have Rabbi Meir telling over a proof from a story of a man who survived three days in a cistern.
SAID R. MEIR: IT ONCE HAPPENED THAT A MAN FELL INTO A LARGE CISTERN etc. It was taught: They said to R. Meir, 'Miracles cannot be mentioned [as proof]'. What [did they mean by] 'miracles'? If it be suggested because he neither eats nor drinks, surely [it may be pointed out], It is written in Scripture, And fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink [three days]! — Rather because he does not sleep. For R. Johanan stated: [A man who said]. 'I take an oath that I will not sleep for three days' is to be flogged and he may sleep at once. What then is R. Meir's reason? — R. Kahana replied: There were arches above arches. And the Rabbis?— They were of marble.
So it seems that we do not consider the possibility of miracle when deciding halacha.

Daf Yomi 114b - Naomi as prototype of Believed Woman

Unlikely, but still why not put the idea out there.
{Yevamot 114b}
האשה שהלכה היא ובעלה למדינת הים
שלום בינו לבינה ושלום בעולם באה ואמרה מת בעלי תנשא מת בעלי תתיבם
שלום בינו לבינה ומלחמה בעולם קטטה בינו לבינה ושלום בעולם באה ואמרה מת בעלי אינה נאמנת
רבי יהודה אומר לעולם אינה נאמנת אא"כ באה בוכה ובגדיה קרועים
אמרו לו אחת זו ואחת זו תנשא:
A woman who went with her husband to an overseas country.
If there was peace between them and peace in the world, and she comes back and says "my husband died," she may remarry, or "my husband died," {and there are no children} she may undergo yibbum.
If there was peace between them and war in the world, or arguments between them and peace in the world, if she came back and said "my husband died," she is not believed.
Rabbi Yehuda says: She is never believed unless she comes crying, with her clothing ripped.
They said to him: Both this and that may remarry.

{Yevamot 116b}
בית הלל אומרים לא שמענו אלא הבאה מן הקציר בלבד
אמרו להן ב"ש אחד הבאה מן הקציר ואחד הבאה מן הזיתים ואחד הבאה ממדינת הים לא דברו בקציר אלא בהווה
חזרו ב"ה להורות כדברי ב"ש:
Bet Hillel say: We only heard regarding one who came from the {wheat?} harvest.
Bet Shammai say: Whether the one who comes from the harvest, or from the olives {picking}, or who came from an overseas country. They only spoke regarding the harvest because of the common case.
Bet Hillel retracted in order to rule like the words of Bet Shammai.
What is the basis for this requirement that the woman appears in mourning when telling over her loss? What is the basis for coming from the harvest? What is this famous incident?

Tosafot suggests that during the wheat harvest, heatstroke is common and thus we might be more prone to believe that he died, and this is (I guess) the common case of causing death.

I may as well be fanciful, and suggest another common case, which Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel might be referring to -- Rut and Naomi's return from Sedei Edom. Ruth was a case of peh sheAsar peh sheHitir, for she was the source that she had married, as well as that she was widowed. Naomi, though, they knew was married when she left. (There are also issues in that their relationship precludes one testifying on the behalf of the other.)

We see at the end of the first perek of Rut:
יט וַתֵּלַכְנָה שְׁתֵּיהֶם, עַד-בּוֹאָנָה בֵּית לָחֶם; וַיְהִי, כְּבוֹאָנָה בֵּית לֶחֶם, וַתֵּהֹם כָּל-הָעִיר עֲלֵיהֶן, וַתֹּאמַרְנָה הֲזֹאת נָעֳמִי. 19 So they two went until they came to Beth-lehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Beth-lehem, that all the city was astir concerning them, and the women said: 'Is this Naomi?'
כ וַתֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶן, אַל-תִּקְרֶאנָה לִי נָעֳמִי: קְרֶאןָ לִי מָרָא, כִּי-הֵמַר שַׁדַּי לִי מְאֹד. 20 And she said unto them: 'Call me not Naomi, call me Marah; for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.
כא אֲנִי מְלֵאָה הָלַכְתִּי, וְרֵיקָם הֱשִׁיבַנִי יְהוָה; לָמָּה תִקְרֶאנָה לִי, נָעֳמִי, וַיהוָה עָנָה בִי, וְשַׁדַּי הֵרַע לִי. 21 I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me back home empty; why call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?'

Also, coming back from a harvest is the next pasuk:
כב וַתָּשָׁב נָעֳמִי, וְרוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה כַלָּתָהּ עִמָּהּ, הַשָּׁבָה, מִשְּׂדֵי מוֹאָב; וְהֵמָּה, בָּאוּ בֵּית לֶחֶם, בִּתְחִלַּת, קְצִיר שְׂעֹרִים. 22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned out of the field of Moab--and they came to Beth-lehem in the beginning of barley harvest.
though it is a barley harvest.

On the day of Ruth's customary yibbum, it was at the end of the wheat harvest, as we read (second perek):
כג וַתִּדְבַּק בְּנַעֲרוֹת בֹּעַז, לְלַקֵּט--עַד-כְּלוֹת קְצִיר-הַשְּׂעֹרִים, וּקְצִיר הַחִטִּים; וַתֵּשֶׁב, אֶת-חֲמוֹתָהּ. 23 So she kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean unto the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest; and she dwelt with her mother-in-law.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ki Tavo: Adoption In Public of Required Behavior in Private

That seems to be the theme in parshat Ki Tavo, in perek 27. They stand in public on Har Gerizim and Har Eval and in between, and accept certain private practices on penalty of a curse. Thus,

יא וַיְצַו מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הָעָם, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר. 11 And Moses charged the people the same day, saying:
יב אֵלֶּה יַעַמְדוּ לְבָרֵךְ אֶת-הָעָם, עַל-הַר גְּרִזִים, בְּעָבְרְכֶם, אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן: שִׁמְעוֹן וְלֵוִי וִיהוּדָה, וְיִשָּׂשכָר וְיוֹסֵף וּבִנְיָמִן. 12 'These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are passed over the Jordan: Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin;
יג וְאֵלֶּה יַעַמְדוּ עַל-הַקְּלָלָה, בְּהַר עֵיבָל: רְאוּבֵן גָּד וְאָשֵׁר, וּזְבוּלֻן דָּן וְנַפְתָּלִי. 13 and these shall stand upon mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.
יד וְעָנוּ הַלְוִיִּם, וְאָמְרוּ אֶל-כָּל-אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל--קוֹל רָם. {ס} 14 And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice: {S}
טו אָרוּר הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה פֶסֶל וּמַסֵּכָה תּוֹעֲבַת יְהוָה, מַעֲשֵׂה יְדֵי חָרָשׁ--וְשָׂם בַּסָּתֶר; וְעָנוּ כָל-הָעָם וְאָמְרוּ, אָמֵן. {ס} 15 Cursed be the man that maketh a graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and setteth it up in secret. And all the people shall answer and say: Amen. {S}
טז אָרוּר, מַקְלֶה אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ; וְאָמַר כָּל-הָעָם, אָמֵן. {ס} 16 Cursed be he that dishonoureth his father or his mother. And all the people shall say: Amen. {S}
יז אָרוּר, מַסִּיג גְּבוּל רֵעֵהוּ; וְאָמַר כָּל-הָעָם, אָמֵן. {ס} 17 Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark. And all the people shall say: Amen. {S}
יח אָרוּר, מַשְׁגֶּה עִוֵּר בַּדָּרֶךְ; וְאָמַר כָּל-הָעָם, אָמֵן. {ס} 18 Cursed be he that maketh the blind to go astray in the way. And all the people shall say: Amen. {S}
יט אָרוּר, מַטֶּה מִשְׁפַּט גֵּר-יָתוֹם--וְאַלְמָנָה; וְאָמַר כָּל-הָעָם, אָמֵן. 19 Cursed be he that perverteth the justice due to the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say: Amen.
כ אָרוּר, שֹׁכֵב עִם-אֵשֶׁת אָבִיו--כִּי גִלָּה, כְּנַף אָבִיו; וְאָמַר כָּל-הָעָם, אָמֵן. {ס} 20 Cursed be he that lieth with his father's wife; because he hath uncovered his father's skirt. And all the people shall say: Amen. {S}
כא אָרוּר, שֹׁכֵב עִם-כָּל-בְּהֵמָה; וְאָמַר כָּל-הָעָם, אָמֵן. {ס} 21 Cursed be he that lieth with any manner of beast. And all the people shall say: Amen. {S}
כב אָרוּר, שֹׁכֵב עִם-אֲחֹתוֹ--בַּת-אָבִיו, אוֹ בַת-אִמּוֹ; וְאָמַר כָּל-הָעָם, אָמֵן. {ס} 22 Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother. And all the people shall say: Amen. {S}
כג אָרוּר, שֹׁכֵב עִם-חֹתַנְתּוֹ; וְאָמַר כָּל-הָעָם, אָמֵן. {ס} 23 Cursed be he that lieth with his mother-in-law. And all the people shall say: Amen. {S}
כד אָרוּר, מַכֵּה רֵעֵהוּ בַּסָּתֶר; וְאָמַר כָּל-הָעָם, אָמֵן. {ס} 24 Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbour in secret. And all the people shall say: Amen. {S}
כה אָרוּר לֹקֵחַ שֹׁחַד, לְהַכּוֹת נֶפֶשׁ דָּם נָקִי; וְאָמַר כָּל-הָעָם, אָמֵן. {ס} 25 Cursed be he that taketh a bribe to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say: Amen. {S}
כו אָרוּר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָקִים אֶת-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה-הַזֹּאת--לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם; וְאָמַר כָּל-הָעָם, אָמֵן. {פ} 26 Cursed be he that confirmeth not the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say: Amen.' {P}
Let us go through each one of these one by one. They said each of these in a loud voice, as it states וְאָמְרוּ אֶל-כָּל-אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל--קוֹל רָם.
  1. The graven or molten image, which he "setteth it up in secret."
  2. Dishonoring father or mother is private behavior. Sometimes it emerges into the public sphere, as in the case of ben sorer umoreh, but usually this is personal, family behavior.
  3. Removing the neighbors landmark is something which would kind of have to be done in secret, because it is hidden theft and claiming that his land now belongs to you.
  4. Misleading the blind probably will not come back to haunt you, since he will be unlikely to identify you.
  5. Perverting the justice due to the stranger, fatherless, and widow, is rendering a judgment and pretending that this is the valid judgment for them.
  6. Incest and bestiality are things usually done in private.
  7. Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbour in secret -- once again, we have the stress on secrecy, and thus on private behavior.
  8. Taking a bribe to slay an innocent person, also seems secretive.
All of these must be confirmed in public to perform them, though the actual performance is in private. This might be obvious, but it is still good to make it overt.

Ki Tavo: Why Plaster them With Plaster?

A short thought:
In parshat Ki Tavo, in perek 27, we read:
א וַיְצַו מֹשֶׁה וְזִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-הָעָם לֵאמֹר: שָׁמֹר, אֶת-כָּל-הַמִּצְוָה, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, הַיּוֹם. 1 And Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying: 'Keep all the commandment which I command you this day.
ב וְהָיָה, בַּיּוֹם אֲשֶׁר תַּעַבְרוּ אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ--וַהֲקֵמֹתָ לְךָ אֲבָנִים גְּדֹלוֹת, וְשַׂדְתָּ אֹתָם בַּשִּׂיד. 2 And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over the Jordan unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster.
The idea seems to be that Moshe is commanding them this today, in the desert, but the purpose is that they be long-lasting. Thus, set up the great stones and plaster them with plaster for the long haul. Then,

ג וְכָתַבְתָּ עֲלֵיהֶן, אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת--בְּעָבְרֶךָ: לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר תָּבֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר-ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה אֱלֹהֵי-אֲבֹתֶיךָ, לָךְ. 3 And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over; that thou mayest go in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of thy fathers, hath promised thee.
This then stands as a testimony to the words of the Torah, traceable back to the days of Moshe.

Ki Tavo: Vaytzav -- An Important Grammatical Form

In parshat Ki Tavo, in the beginning of perek 27, we read:
א וַיְצַו מֹשֶׁה וְזִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-הָעָם לֵאמֹר: שָׁמֹר, אֶת-כָּל-הַמִּצְוָה, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, הַיּוֹם. 1 And Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying: 'Keep all the commandment which I command you this day.
Even though vaytzav is singular, it is Moshe and the elders who command it. It is just that when you have a list of people doing things, it is acceptable to use the appropriate verb ending for the first person on the list.

We see this also with Miryam, in Bemidbar 12:1:
א וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמֹשֶׁה, עַל-אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח: כִּי-אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית, לָקָח. 1 And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman.
And we see this also in the beginning of Korach {Bemidbar 16:1}:
א וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת--בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן. 1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men;
This is obvious, but some online people try to take the וַיִּקַּח in parshat Korach as evidence of multiple authorship, claiming that the other people in the verse obviously had to have been added later, for why else would it have used the singular. This is not necessarily the case.

Ki Tavo: It's Not So Odd

There is a famous poem by Ogden Nash:
How odd of God / To choose the Jews1.
It wasn't odd /The Jews chose God2.
Perhaps we can use this as a good summary of the message of the following section in parshat Ki Tavo, where we are to be the am segulah:
{Devarim 26:16}:
טז הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ מְצַוְּךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה--וְאֶת-הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים; וְשָׁמַרְתָּ וְעָשִׂיתָ אוֹתָם, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשֶׁךָ. 16 This day the LORD thy God commandeth thee to do these statutes and ordinances; thou shalt therefore observe and do them with all thy heart, and with all thy soul.
יז אֶת-ה הֶאֱמַרְתָּ, הַיּוֹם: לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לֵאלֹהִים וְלָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו, וְלִשְׁמֹר חֻקָּיו וּמִצְו‍ֹתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו--וְלִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקֹלוֹ. 17 Thou hast avouched the LORD this day to be thy God, and that thou wouldest walk in His ways, and keep His statutes, and His commandments, and His ordinances, and hearken unto His voice.
יח וַה הֶאֱמִירְךָ הַיּוֹם, לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם סְגֻלָּה, כַּאֲשֶׁר, דִּבֶּר-לָךְ; וְלִשְׁמֹר, כָּל-מִצְו‍ֹתָיו. 18 And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be His own treasure, as He hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all His commandments;
יט וּלְתִתְּךָ עֶלְיוֹן, עַל כָּל-הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, לִתְהִלָּה, וּלְשֵׁם וּלְתִפְאָרֶת; וְלִהְיֹתְךָ עַם-קָדֹשׁ לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֵּר. {פ} 19 and to make thee high above all nations that He hath made, in praise, and in name, and in glory; and that thou mayest be a holy people unto the LORD thy God, as He hath spoken. {P}
We may easily read this as a reciprocal relationship -- we choose Hashem as our God, and so Hashem chooses us as his nation. Our tefillin have "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad," and Hashem's tefillin have "Mi KeAmcha Yisrael Goy Echad BaAretz."

We might also read it as automatic. What makes us the am segulah, the chosen treasured people? The fact that we have chosen to follow God and adopt his holy, ethical laws makes us by definition "high above all nations that He hath made, in praise, and in name, and in glory; and that thou mayest be a holy people unto the LORD thy God, as He hath spoken."

1 William Norman Ewer
2 Ogden Nash's reply

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ki Tavo: Bikkurim

You may have noticed my parsha posts have recently veered from analyses of words and parses of sentences to attempts to get to the theme and message behind various Biblical instructions. This, while somewhat homiletical, is also within the realm of peshat.

Parshat Ki Tavo opens with the command to bring bikkurim, the first fruits. I think these two verses capture much of the essence {Devarim 26:10-11}:
י וְעַתָּה, הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת-רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתָּה לִּי, ה; וְהִנַּחְתּוֹ, לִפְנֵי ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ, לִפְנֵי ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. 10 And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O LORD, hast given me.' And thou shalt set it down before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God.
יא וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְכָל-הַטּוֹב, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לְךָ ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ--וּלְבֵיתֶךָ: אַתָּה, וְהַלֵּוִי, וְהַגֵּר, אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבֶּךָ. {ס} 11 And thou shalt rejoice in all the good which the LORD thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thy house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is in the midst of thee. {S}
The idea here is perhaps similar to a sharecropper who has farmed the land and, having brought in the first of the harvest, gives to the landowner to taste. Here too, the farmer has worked hard to produce these fruits. However, he has been granted this land by Hashem. Thus, he dictates Jewish history briefly, with the conclusion of bringing the Israelites into the land. This is the first of the fruit of the land "which Thou, O LORD, hast given me." When discussing manna and birkat hamazon, there was a similar worry -- in the wilderness, it is clear that God is providing, but even in the land, Hashem does so as well, though in a natural way.

It is easy for a farmer to forget this, giving all the hard work he himself puts into producing his crop. Thus this confession and thanksgiving statement and offering. And thus he rejoices with everyone (pasuk 11), including those who don't own land -- "the Levite and the stranger that is in the midst of thee" -- for everyone is provided for by Hashem, and as a rich landowner, he is no different.

(See e.g. Rashi that this refers to the Levite and stranger who own land, and thus bring bikkurim.)

Even for we who are not farmers, it is a good lesson to internalize.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Ner or Besamim First?

Note: Not intended as halacha lemaaseh.

The standard halacha is that during havdalah, we first bless on the besamim and afterwards on the ner. This despite the fact that the Mishna in Berachot 51b lists ner before besamim, both according to Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. Rather, we rule in accordance with a brayta that has Bet Hillel put the besamim before the ner.

I would like to reexamine that decision.

One major source to that effect is in Berachot 52b, where we have a maaseh rav:
בש"א נר ומזון וכו':
רב הונא בר יהודה איקלע לבי רבא חזייה לרבא דבריך אבשמים ברישא
א"ל מכדי ב"ש וב"ה אמאור לא פליגי דתניא בש"א נר ומזון בשמים והבדלה ובה"א נר ובשמים מזון והבדלה
עני רבא בתריה זו דברי ר"מ אבל ר' יהודה אומר לא נחלקו ב"ש וב"ה על המזון שהוא בתחלה ועל הבדלה שהיא בסוף על מה נחלקו על המאור ועל הבשמים שבש"א על המאור ואח"כ בשמים ובה"א בשמים ואח"כ מאור
וא"ר יוחנן נהגו העם כב"ה אליבא דרבי יהודה
"Bet Shammai say: ner and mazon...":
Rav Huna bar Yehuda visited the house of Rava. He saw Rava bless on the besamim first.
He {Rav Huna bar Yehuda} said to him: Let us see. Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel do not argue regarding the light, for they learn {in a brayta}: Bet Shammai say: ner and mazon, besamim and havdalah. And Bet Hillel say ner and besamim, mazon and havdalah.
Rava answered after him: These are the words of Rabbi Meir, but Rabbi Yehuda says: Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel do not argue regarding the mazon that it is first and regarding the havdalah that it is last. On what do they argue? On the light and on the besamim. That Bet Shammai say: on the light and afterwards on the besamim. And Bet Hillel say: On the besamim and afterwards on the light.
And Rabbi Yochanan said: The people are accustomed to act like Bet Hillel according to Rabbi Yehuda.
When Rif cites this, instead of having וא"ר יוחנן, he just has א"ר יוחנן. This could make some sort of difference, since with the vav it seems part of Rava's answer, and supports this position in the brayta. But without the vav, it could stand on its own.

This makes a difference because it is unclear that Rabbi Yochanan is actually supporting Rava. This is because in Eretz Yisrael, they had a different version of the brayta according to Rabbi Yehuda, in which the positions of Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai are reversed. In Yerushalmi Berachot 60a:

תני אמר ר' יהודא לא נחלקו בית שמאי ובית הלל על המזון שהוא בתחילה ועל הבדלה שהיא בסוף ועל מה נחלקו על המאור ועל הבשמים שבית שמאי אומרים בשמים ומאור. ובית הלל אומרים מאור ובשמים.

רבי בא ורב יהודא בשם רב הלכה כדברי מי שאומר בשמים ואחר כך מאור

Thus, according to this brayta according to Rabbi Yehuda, Bet Hillel maintains that one should bless on the lamp before blessing on the besamim, and Bet Shammai holds otherwise. Now, Rabbi Yochanan is saying that "The people are accustomed to act like Bet Hillel according to Rabbi Yehuda." But according to which version of Rabbi Yehuda's brayta?

It stands to reason that it is the version of the brayta which is found in the Yerushalmi, for that is the location of Rabbi Yochanan. This is the brayta he is reacting to, and when he says "the people are accustomed," he is talking about the custom of the people in Eretz Yisrael, who he witnessed.

Rif (see Rif in Berachot 38b and 39a, in pages of Rif), in his discussion of the brayta in Yerushalmi, says that for various reasons we do not rely on the Yerushalmi's version. But I would take issue with this for the aforementioned reason -- Rabbi Yochanan is stating the halacha, and the halacha is presumably based on the brayta which was before him.

Now, as we have seen, we have Rav in the Yerushalmi say explicitly, like Rava in Bavli, that the halacha is like the one who says besamim and afterwards maor.

However, should we rule like Rav? We have a general principle of horaah that in case of dispute between Rav and Rabbi Yochanan, we rule like Rabbi Yochanan. Thus, we should rule like him here. Indeed, even Rava does not cite Rav in deciding the halacha here, but rather cites the statement of Rabbi Yochanan.

(It is a curious point that the Bavli bases itself on Rabbi Yochanan, an Amora from Eretz Yisrael, while the Yerushalmi bases itself on Rav Yehuda citing Rav, both Babylonian Amoraim -- though it also has Rabbi Bo -- whether Rabbi Bo is stating this himself or citing Rav is another issue.)

Let us further examine Rav Yehuda amar Rav's statement in Yerushalmi. He says הלכה כדברי מי שאומר בשמים ואחר כך מאור. Why not say that the halacha is like Bet Shammai according to Rabbi Yehuda's brayta, in a statement roughly parallel to that of Rabbi Yochanan? That would be the more usual formulation. Or say that the halacha is besamim and afterwards maor. Instead, הלכה כדברי מי שאומר together with the position gives the impression that it is a dispute as to who says what, and so we identify the person with whom we rule based on the contents of the position.

It could be that Rav is shy in stating that we rule like Bet Shammai. And yet it is also strange -- why in the world do we rule like Bet Shammai here, which we do not do in general. It could also be that Rav was aware of both versions of this brayta. After all, he was an Amora of Bavel who traveled to learn in Eretz Yisrael, and thus would be familiar with both traditions. As a result, he would encounter the aforementioned brayta as cited in Yerushalmi. He would realize that he could not say that the halacha is like Bet Hillel according to Rabbi Yehuda, for that would only work for the brayta in Bavel. And he could not say that the halacha is like Bet Shammai according to Rabbi Yehuda, for besides raising questions, it would only make sense to someone with the brayta in Eretz Yisrael. Yet, he maintains the integrity of the brayta in Bavel, and so wishes to rule like Rabbi Yehuda over Rabbi Meir, and like Bet Hillel over Bet Shammai. Since there is this dispute, he does not wish to be misunderstood by any audience, so he identifies the position rather than the person. Thus, רבי בא ורב יהודא בשם רב הלכה כדברי מי שאומר בשמים ואחר כך מאור.

Indeed, this is our Babylonian brayta. We have it cited as such in the setama digmara, we have it cited as such by Rava, and we find it as such in Tosefta Berachot 5:31:
א"ר יהודה לא נחלקו ב"ש וב"ה על ברהמ"ז שבתחלה ועל הבדלה שבסוף ועל מה נחלקו על המאור ועל הבשמים שב"ש אומרים על המאור ואח"כ [בשמים] ובית הלל אומרים בשמים ואח"כ מאור

However, we still may well be faced with Rava's possible misunderstanding. Rava knew the Babylonian brayta, and knew Rabbi Yochanan's statement. Rabbi Yochanan did not know the Babylonian variant and thus did not take's Rav's precautionary formulation. Therefore, Rava applied Rabbi Yochanan and the brayta and arrived at the order of besamim and then maor.

Now, this is a maaseh rav, an actual incident in which an Amora acted practically, and that should trump all else. And Rava is later than both Rav and Rabbi Yochanan, and his position as batrai should trump whatever they say. However, if we establish that Rava was acting on a misunderstanding, then we should not rely on the maaseh rav.

And don't tell me that Rava can rely on Rav's position, firstly because he did not cite Rav's position but rather that of Rabbi Yochanan, secondly because the Bavli does not cite Rav's position but all we have is Rabbi Yochanan, and finally because in a dispute between Rav and Rabbi Yochanan, we rule like Rabbi Yochanan.

Indeed, Rava's actions seem like a novelty. For Rav Huna bar Yehuda was surprised to see him act in this way, and began to ask from the Mishna. Now, havdalah is performed every single week. Why is he surprised now. It must be that at home, and elsewhere, he was accustomed to see people act like the Mishna, which was to have the maor before the besamim. And this would then establish a popular Babylonian custom in accordance with the popular Eretz-Yisraelite custom, to which Rabbi Yochanan testified when he said nahagu ha`am like Bet Hillel according to Rabbi Yehuda.

By the way, if it indeed is Bet Shammai's position, we should not hold like it. As we say in proximity (beforehand) in Berachot:

What is the reason of Bet Shammai?
Because of pieces {crumbs of bread}.
And Bet Hillel holds: here we are dealing with an attendant who is a scholar, who leaves alone pieces less than an olive's measure, and takes away pieces which have in it an olive's measure.

This supports Rabbi Yochanan, who says that pieces that do not have in them an olive's measure, one is permitted to destroy them by hand.

In what do they argue?

Bet Shammai hold it is permitted to make use of an attendant who is an ignoramus, and Bet Hillel holds it is forbidden to make use of an attendant who is an ignoramus.

Rabbi Yitzchak son of Rabbi Chanina cited Rav Huna: In all chapters the halacha is like Bet Hillel, with the exception of this one, where the halacha is like Bet Shammai.
Regardless of all of the above, perhaps we can ignore both Rabbi Yochanan and Rav and look just to the brayta. If the other position is that of Rabbi Meir, and these braytot are like Rabbi Yehuda, we should rule like Rabbi Yehuda. And within Rabbi Yehuda, in a dispute between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel, we should rule like Bet Hillel.

However, there is a disagreement about the girsa of the brayta, and thus as to the actual respective positions of Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. But, one is a Bavli and one is a Yerushalmi, and we might bring to bear the sources that argue that we rule in favor of Bavli over Yerushalmi. That is usually in terms of Talmud, rather than brayta, and the reasons might not be applicable. For example, saying that the chatimat haBavli was later than Yerushalmi, so the Amoraim of Bavel saw the Yerushalmi and decided against it, may simply not work by parallel Toseftas.

We generally have a Bavli bias, and that may be enough. Add to it that Rava explicitly rules like this. Add that the setama digemara earlier (previous amud) also makes use of our Babylonian Tosefta. And add the weight of centuries upon centuries of Jewish practice, such that we have our own nahagu haAm.

Still, another way of evaluating the merits of the two girsaot of the brayta is to see how is performs in context. And "unfortunately" for us, it turns out that if we take the Yerushalmi's version of the brayta and import it to our local Bavli Berachot, it solves a number of difficulties, which the setama digemara grapples with and resolves in a fairly unsatisfactory way. We now turn to consider our local gemara and its problems, and see how importing this girsa of the brayta will solve the problems more elegantly.

The Mishna states {Berachot 51b}:
ב"ש אומרים נר ומזון בשמים והבדלה וב"ה אומרים נר ובשמים מזון והבדלה
The gemara cites a brayta which explains the respective reasonings of Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai of the Mishna:
תנו רבנן דברים שבין ב"ש וב"ה בסעודה ב"ש אומרים מברך על היום ואח"כ מברך על היין שהיום גורם ליין שיבא וכבר קדש היום ועדיין יין לא בא וב"ה אומרים מברך על היין ואח"כ מברך על היום שהיין גורם לקדושה שתאמר דבר אחר ברכת היין תדירה וברכת היום אינה תדירה תדיר ושאינו תדיר תדיר קודם והלכה כדברי ב"ה
Our Rabbis taught: The points of difference between Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel in relation to a meal are as follows: Beth Shammai say that the blessing is first said over the [sanctity of] the day and then over the wine, because it is on account of the day that the wine is used, and [moreover] the day has already become holy before the wine has been brought. Beth Hillel say that a blessing is said over the wine first and then over the day, because the wine provides the occasion for saying a benediction. Another explanation is that the blessing over wine is said regularly while the blessing of the day is said only at infrequent intervals, and that which comes regularly always has precedence over that which comes infrequently. The halachah is as laid down by Beth Hillel.
This establishes that Bet Hillel holds that the wine has precedence over the day (because of being more frequent), while Bet Shammai hold that the day has precedence over the wine.

The gemara objects to this, based on a brayta. Berachot 52a:
וסברי בית שמאי דברכת היום עדיפא
והתניא הנכנס לביתו במוצאי שבת מברך על היין ועל המאור ועל הבשמים ואחר כך אומר הבדלה ואם אין לו אלא כוס אחד מניחו לאחר המזון ומשלשלן כולן לאחריו
But do Beth Shammai hold that the blessing over the day is more important, seeing that it has been taught:
'When one goes into his house on the outgoing of Sabbath, he says blessings over wine and light and spices and then he says the habdalah [benediction]. If he has only one cup, he keeps it for after the meal and then says the other blessings in order after it?'
According to this brayta, by saying havdalah last, he is thus putting the day after the wine!
Now, this brayta is anonymous, and might either represent the view of Bet Shammai or of Bet Hillel. Indeed, is it not strange to have an anonymous brayta in accordance with Bet Shammai?

Indeed, the setama digmara raises this objection. It states:
והא ממאי דב"ש היא דלמא ב"ה היא
לא ס"ד דקתני
מאור ואח"כ בשמים ומאן שמעת ליה דאית ליה האי סברא ב"ש דתניא א"ר יהודה לא נחלקו בית שמאי וב"ה על המזון שבתחלה ועל הבדלה שהיא בסוף על מה נחלקו על המאור ועל הבשמים ב"ש אומרים מאור ואחר כך בשמים וב"ה אומרים בשמים ואחר כך מאור
But how do you know that this represents the view of Beth Shammai? Perhaps it represents the view of Beth Hillel? — Do not imagine such a thing. For it mentions first light and then spices; and who is it that we understand to hold this view? Beth Shammai, as it has been taught: R. Judah says: Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel concurred in holding that the grace after food comes first and the habdalah [benediction] last. In regard to what did they differ? In regard to the light and the spices, Beth Shammai holding that light should come first and then spices, and Beth Hillel that spices should come first and then light.
Thus, we establish the anonymous brayta as the view of Bet Shammai, according to Rabbi Yehuda.

But, at this very point, we may highlight that this is only if you have the brayta as found in the Babylonian Tosefta, as Rava had. But, if you have the brayta as given over in the Yerushalmi, then the positions of Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai are reversed, so first light and then spices is Bet Hillel according to Rabbi Yehuda, and so we cannot establish that Bet Shammai is the Tanna of the anonymous brayta which put wine first and havdalah last. Therefore, the brayta is no proof that Bet Shammai would put wine before havdalah, and thus wine before day. Therefore, we may well say that Bet Shammai in general holds that day in general is preferable to wine, while it is Bet Hillel who say that wine is preferable to day.

I am operating here based on the assumptions the setama digmara is making. There are more general issues about all this which I shall discuss later.

Instead of giving the aforementioned answer, our gemara is trapped into establishing that this anonymous brayta is the opinion of Bet Shammai, and according to the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda. Therefore, it objects. We saw later, from a named Amora, Rava, that this is a matter of dispute (as in our Mishna) between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Meir as to the nature of the dispute between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. Perhaps we should establish this anonymous brayta according to Bet Hillel, according to Rabbi Meir of the Mishna.

וממאי דבית שמאי היא ואליבא דרבי יהודה דילמא בית הילל היא ואליבא דרבי מאיר
לא ס"ד דקתני הכא במתניתין
בית שמאי אומרים נר ומזון בשמים והבדלה ובית הלל אומרים נר ובשמים מזון והבדלה והתם בברייתא קתני אם אין לו אלא כוס אחד מניחו לאחר המזון ומשלשלן כולן לאחריו
שמע מינה דבית שמאי היא ואליבא דרבי יהודה
And how do you know that this represents the view of Beth Shammai as reported by R. Judah? Perhaps it represents the view of Beth Hillel as reported by R. Meir!
Do not imagine such a thing. For it states here, BETH SHAMMAI SAY, LIGHT, GRACE AND SPICES, AND HABDALAH; WHILE BETH HILLEL SAY LIGHT, SPICES, GRACE, AND HABDALAH, and there in the Baraitha it says, 'If he has only one cup he keeps it for grace and says the others in order after it'. This shows that it represents the view of Beth Shammai as reported by R. Judah.
Thus, in the Mishna, which is Rabbi Meir, we have LIGHT, SPICES, GRACE, AND HABDALAH, while the anonymous brayta maintains the aforementioned order, that is the order in the anonymous brayta but after GRACE, which would then be GRACE, WINE, LIGHT, SPICES, HAVDALAH. This would then have GRACE in the wrong place. Thus, we do not establish the anonymous brayta like our Mishna, which is Rabbi Meir, but rather like Rabbi Yehuda, and it is the opinion of Bet Shammai.

Again, if we follow Yerushalmi, then this anonymous brayta may be that of Bet Hillel according to Rabbi Yehuda, so we have no problem. However, since in our gemara hold that the anonymous brayta is the position of Bet Shammai according to Rabbi Yehuda, we have evidence that Bet Shammai maintains a precedence for wine before havdalah, which has to do with the sanctity of the day.

The gemara gives a harmonization to this difficulty:
In any case there is a difficulty? — Beth Shammai hold that the entrance of a [holy] day is different from its outgoing. At its entrance, the earlier we can make it the better, but at its exit, the longer we can defer it the better, so that it should not seem to be a burden on us.
And this works. But the question, at least as arranged by the setama digmara, is more readily resolved by saying that the girsa of Rabbi Yehuda's brayta is that of the Yerushalmi rather than that of the Bavli.

What in the world is the gemara doing with all this, though? Why bother proving Bet Shammai's opinion in the anonymous brayta, when you have the explicit non-anonymous brayta saying that Rabbi Yehuda held that both Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel hold that wine is first and havdalah is last? Once we discard the Mishna as being that of Rabbi Meir, why not just leap to that clearer brayta?

I would posit that the development of the idea is as follows. The Mishna said earlier that
This appears to be a general principle of precedence. The brayta in the beginning of the gemara, discussing the reasoning of Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel goes on that portion of the Mishna.

Later in the Mishna, we have
Since it does mention wine in this list, it is unclear whether they mean wine before the havdalah or wine after the havdalah. After all, the earlier portion of the Mishna was talking about a meal at the entrance of, say, Shabbat, and so when do we sanctify the day. For Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai, the leap is apparent, that we should transfer the blessing on the wine to the appropriate spot. Thus, even though this is Rabbi Meir's account of the respective orders, we would place wine in its appropriate spot before or after havdalah.

That is the simplest implication deduced from the brayta which discusses the why of Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. But then, we can find contradictory evidence in Rabbi Yehuda's brayta accounting the details of the dispute. Why not cite that brayta, rather than the anonymous one, if the aim is to establish Bet Shammai's position? The answer may well be that the setama digmara often takes sources with less evidence and works up to more evidence, and this is just a stylistic thing. But the answer might also be that if we cite Rabbi Yehuda's brayta, this could be dismissed as just Rabbi Yehuda's opinion, while the brayta was going on the Mishna, and thus on Rabbi Meir's opinion. In constrast, a stam, anonymous brayta effectively "rules" that this is the position of Bet Shammai, that we rule like Rabbi Yehuda in his dispute with Rabbi Meir. Once this is the official decided-upon position of Bet Shammai, we would expect the explanatory brayta to go on this, rather than any account of Rabbi Meir. And perhaps we could then even extrapolate the results to the Mishna, within Rabbi Meir's position, though this is not necessary.

I would argue that having this stam brayta does not only state as decided what the position of Bet Shammai is -- that is, that we rule like Rabbi Yehuda over Rabbi Meir. It also takes a position on what the halacha is, since it mentioned neither Bet Shammai or Bet Hillel, but only the position. Thus, we have a stam brayta in according with what we Babylonians call Bet Shammai's position, but what Yerushalmis call Bet Hillel's position. If so, this could be yet another reason Rabbi Yochanan rules like Rabbi Yehuda's Bet Hillel. Indeed, this is perhaps more proof that the brayta should be as it appears in Yerushalmi, for the stam brayta we would expect to be like Bet Hillel.

In summation, we have certain reasons to have the ner first, and certain reasons to have besamim first. Here is a list:

Ner Before Besamim
  1. Within our Mishna, which is Rabbi Meir, both Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel place the ner before besamim.
  2. Within our Babylonian brayta of Rabbi Yehuda, it is Bet Shammai's position, so even though we generally rule like Bet Hillel, Bet Shammai has various reasons for the precedence which are not for nothing.
  3. Within the Yerushalmi's brayta or Rabbi Yehuda, it is Bet Hillel's position, and we should rule like Bet Hillel.
  4. Rabbi Yochanan's statement was that we rule like Rabbi Yehuda's Bet Hillel, and Rabbi Yochanan is an Amora from Eretz Yisrael, so it makes sense to say that he was going on the Yerushalmi's brayta. Rav's formulation in the Yerushalmi makes it clear that there was probably this Bavli/Yerushalmi dispute as to the contents of the brayta.
  5. The explanatory brayta of Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel's reasons work better with the Yerushalmi's version of the brayta.
  6. Even though Rav rules that besamim are first, we have a general rule of preferring Rabbi Yochanan to Rav in halachic disputes.
  7. Rava's maaseh rav, based on the brayta and Rabbi Yochanan, we can argue was based on an unfortunate misunderstanding.
  8. Rav Huna bar Yehuda was surprised by Rava's actions, implying that elsewhere the practice was ner first.
  9. We have a stam brayta which is within Rabbi Yehuda (who we rule like) which just states that ner comes first, and no conflicting opinion (of Bet Shammai, or Bet Hillel, whoever takes the contrary position). Indeed, this perhaps bolsters the position that the Yerushalmi's account of the brayta is correct.
Besamim Rosh :)
  1. In our Babylonian brayta in the gemara, which we find in our Tosefta, we have Rabbi Yehuda's version of the dispute, in which Bet Hillel says that we have besamim before ner.
  2. Rabbi Yochanan can be understood as going on this Babylonian brayta, and thus we should rule like Bet Hillel within the Babylonian brayta.
  3. Indeed, this is how Rava understands Rabbi Yochanan's statement.
  4. And this is a maaseh rav -- he acted practically in accordance with this understanding.
  5. Indeed, the setama digmara in Bavli agrees, and though we have an anonymous brayta, it states that this is Bet Shammai's position (based on the more explicit Rabbi Yehuda's brayta).
  6. Even though the Yerushalmi has a different version of the brayta, it cites Rav that we rule here like what appears to be the position of Bet Shammai, that besamim come first.
  7. Don't tell me that Rabbi Yochanan trumps Rav, because I can tell you that Rav and Rabbi Yochanan agree.
  8. Thus, the conclusion of both the Bavli and the Yerushalmi is that besamim come before ner.
  9. And indeed, that has been the practice for generations.
Personally, I think there is quite some merit to the position that ner should come before besamim. Still, we have braytot going both ways even in terms of what Bet Hillel's position is, and we might go to the old standby that therefore however one conducts oneself in terms of these orders of precedence, he has done well.

Not intended as halacha lemaaseh. Still, an interesting investigation, if I may say so myself.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Rav Chaim Vital's Freudian Dream

Over at DreamingOfMoshiach, a very ... interesting post, retelling over a dream by Rav Chaim Vital, a student of the Arizal. The background for this dream is that
Rabbi Chaim Vital apparently married at a young age. According to one legend, his first wife was Hannah, the daughter of a certain Moses Saadia. It was an unhappy marriage[.]
The following I excerpt from the post at DreamingOfMoshiach, itself summarizing the contents of a passage in Rav Chaim Vital's Sefer Chizyonot.
It was Friday night, 8 Tevet when I said Kiddush and sat to eat. Tears were flowing from my eyes because 2 months ago, 10 Cheshvan, I married Chana and she performed witchcraft on me. I asked HaShem thru 'dream question', how is it that I got this tremendous trouble, especially because she's causing me to bitul Torah (waste precious time from learning Torah). From so much worry, I could not eat or think. I would lay in bed crying till I'd fall asleep. While sleeping, I had a dream within a dream.
Thus, he believes that his wife is a witch who performed witchcraft on him. This could well stem from the fact that he has an unhappy marriage. Then again, I would not discount it. After all, Rav Chaim Vital has mystical leanings, which find expression in his dreams and in his study of kabbalah. His wife might have similar mystical predilections, and if she delved into practical folk mysticism (much like some modern day segulas), it is quite possible that she performed witchcraft on him. Or perhaps he happened to spy her when she went to the mikveh and saw that she could not submerge under the water, because she floated, because ... she weighed the same as a duck. Regardless, we know her name and her family, so I wonder what this is in terms of spreading this lashon hara about her that she is a witch. Now, many years after the fact, it is not such a problem. But back then, such an allegation... well, the dream apparently has some connection to shiluach haken, in parshat Ki Teitzei. But parshat Ki Teitzei also has the chapter of motzi shem ra al besulas yisrael.

So he has marital difficulties. And he asked Hashem for help resolving it, so that this dream is a response to it. An ... interesting ... portion of it:
I was weeping very hard and suddenly I see a beautiful important woman standing on top of the ladder and I thought to myself, 'this is my mother'. And she said, "What are you doing Chaim, my son, why are you crying? I heard your weeping and came to help you." She reached her right arm and raised me to the top of the ladder. In Heaven, I saw a big round window and big fire flames coming out and entering this window, it was like lightening (sic) and extremely hot. I understood that this is the hot burning sword placed at the entrance of Gan Eden. I bitterly cried again for my mother to help me enter inside Gan Eden. "My mother, my mother, help me so the hot burning sword will not burn me." My mother said that she can't stop the hot burning sword but she can advise me how to enter inside Gan Eden, "Put your hand to your head and you will find cotton, white as snow. Place the cotton on the window and quickly pass thru to enter inside Gan Eden." I did as my mother advised and put my hand on my hair. I was young and the color of my hair is black but miracoulsy, it turned into white cotton, in the secret of ושער רישיה כעמר נקא, (Daniel 7;9).
So in response to his marital difficulties with his wife, he has a dream about a beautiful woman, who is his mother. His mother, in contrast to the witch he married. Does this seem Oedipal to you yet?

And he tells his mother his problem. He wants to enter "the big round window" so that he can enter "Gan Eden." But there is a long, burning flaming sword which will not let him enter this big round window. I do not think I need to spell it out, but big round holes which one tries to enter (and which involve pleasure upon entering) have a specific meaning. As do long, burning swords. And asking his mother to help him do this... well, I don't put much stock in Freud, but in this particular instance, the conclusion about the dream's meaning is fairly clear.

40 Days Shir HaShirim

From an email list I subscribe to:
Letting whoever is interested know about a segulah that worked for me. I took upon myself to say shir hashirim for 40 days so that a specific bakasha should be fulfilled. If it were to work, I would publicize that the segulah worked. B"H I am happy to report that my bakasha was answered. Hatzlacha raba!
Alas, we do not know what the bakasha, request, was. The implication one will probably draw from this, and what was probably intended by the author here, is that this is not a segula for purpose X, but rather, a general, all purpose segulah. Thus one may just commit to doing this instead of, say, following Rebbetzin Kanievsky's advice from the previous post to learn two halachot of Shemirat HaLashon a day.

I don't have any idea why this should work. I've heard this same segula, specifically for the purpose of getting a shidduch, where at least it has some internal logic. After all, Shir haShirim is overtly about lovers, so it is appropriate (though unsubstantiated) that saying this would help bring one's appropriate shidduch.

However, I still have issues with this. It turns pesukim into an incantation, which was problematic at least in terms of lochesh al haMakka. Perhaps it is the zechut of learning through this sefer of Tanach? But nothing is said of understanding it, just of "zugging" it. And even if you understand Hebrew while saying it, you will understand the pashut peshat meaning of it, which one commentator says is worse than bittul Torah, but is even negative, because you are not understanding the underlying message, while the overt message is semi-pornographic. (See here for I believe is the most extreme, though often missed, example, but be warned over the rating of its content.)

Another point to be made is that the letter writer says "If it were to work, I would publicize that the segulah worked." He does not say that if it does not work, he will publicize that. In fact, I would find it highly strange for someone to so publicize this. The effect of this is that you will only be presented with positive evidence and no chance of seeing negative evidence. This is not a good way to evaluate the efficacy of a segulah.


On an entirely unrelated note, I found the following YouTube video via slashdot, on a technique of image resizing, by Shai Avidan and Ariel Shamir. It is quite cool. Check it out:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Aruch haShulchan: Your Daily Commute to Work is Travel to a Mitzvah

Or: Working for a Living is a Mitzvah, to Halachic Effect

I saw a noteworthy Aruch haShulchan last night. In Orach Chaim 90:20, he writes
סעיף כ ההולך בדרך והגיע למלון מבעוד יום ורוצה ללון שם אם יש לפניו בדרך שצריך לילך במרחק ד' מילין מקום שמתפללין בעשרה ויכול לבא שם בעוד יום ושלא יהא צריך ללכת יחידי בלילה צריך לילך לשם להתפלל בצבור ויותר מד' מילין לא הטריחוהו חכמים אף שצריך לילך בדרך הזה אבל כשצריך לחזור לאחוריו או לצדדין אינו מחויב לילך אלא עד מיל ולא עד בכלל וכן הדר בישוב תוך מיל למקום שמתפללין בעשרה חייב לילך בכל יום בוקר וערב להתפלל בצבור ושיעור מיל הוא פרסה רוסי"ת שקורין ווייארסט ופשיטא שלא ישכים אדם לילך בדרך לדבר הרשות מעיר שיש שם בהכ"נ ואפילו ילך קודם אור הבוקר וזה שאין אנו נזהרין בזה משום שאנו הולכין בדרך לפרנסתינו ונחשב זה לדבר מצוה שהרי מצוה לפרנס אשתו וזרעו דאשתו חובה לפרנסה ובניו ובנותיו אמרו חז"ל דעל זה נאמר עושי צדקה בכל עת [כתובות נ'. וכ"מ במועד קטן רפ"ג ע"ש] ועוד דזהו דוקא כשיכול לבא למחוז חפצו מבע"י כמ"ש בש"ע סעי' י"ז:

Thus, it is obvious that one should not get up early to go on the road for a voluntary purpose {devar reshut} from a city which has a synagogue {such he can pray with a minyan, and instead pray without a minyan}, and even if he leaves before the light of morning {such that the obligation of Shacharit did not yet impose itself}. And this that we are not careful in this is because we are going on the road for our livelihood, and this is reckoned as a matter of mitzvah, for it is a mitzvah to provide for his wife and children, for as regards his wife, it is an obligation to provide for her, and as for his sons and daughters, Chazal say (Ketubot 50a) that on this it is written
ג אַשְׁרֵי, שֹׁמְרֵי מִשְׁפָּט; עֹשֵׂה צְדָקָה בְכָל-עֵת. 3 Happy are they that keep justice, that do righteousness at all times.
{perhaps because his work on their behalf to provide for them is considered tzedaka, righteousness, and thus it is at all times.}
And further, this is where he is able to arrive at his destination while it is yet day, as is written in Shulchan Aruch seif 17.
The gemara, by the way, says:
"Happy are they that keep justice, that do righteousness at all times." Is it possible to do righteousness at all times? — This, explained our Rabbis of Jabneh (or, as others say. R. Eliezer), refers to a man who maintains his sons and daughters while they are young.

A Letter From Rebbetzin Kanievsky

Someone forwarded me (and many other people) the following letter from Rebbetzin Kanievsky (my thoughts below):
Dear women and girls! We need you to help us in prayers! The situation in
Eretz Yisrael is very difficult. Lately we are suffering terrible losses,
many orphans and widows from different diseases. My husband, The Rabbi, was
asked what could be the reason for all these tragedies. The Rabbi opened a
Gemara and said it's because of foul language. And how can we correct
ourselves? Only by watching what we say.

I read an article written by Rabbi Segal from Manchester who writes: "Never
did I see a person who learned 2 Halachot of Shemirat Halashon every day and
didn't see salvation from above, whether in children, in shidduch, good
health, parnasa or bringing up the children. He had promised that whoever
will learn the Chafetz Hayim, he will be his defender in Heaven." And we
witnessed miracles that happened to people who took upon themselves two
Halachot every day and saw Yeshuot. While I was reading the article a woman
walked in crying and said she has a number of aging daughters that are still
not married. I showed her the article and immediately she said she will
learn two Halachot of Shemirat Halashon every day. Within three days one
daughter got engaged. Two months later her second daughter and ba"h this
woman saw many Yeshuot. Like her, hundreds of girls who took upon
themselves the Shemirat Halashon got married.

A different story is about a woman who came to us about a year ago with
great sorrow saying that she'd been married for 20 years and she didn't have
children. I advised her to learn two Halchot every day and B"H she
conceived and now has a month old baby boy.

And another story: A few weeks ago a woman came to me, broken and crying,
and said that her mother is in the hospital with a growing tumor. She
asked what she could take upon herself to help. Again, I advised that the
entire family learn two Halachot of Shemirat Halashon every day. Two days
later she returned and asked of me to tell her story and the miracle that
happened. She said that the entire family gathered and decided to learn two
Halachot daily and two days later they received a phone call from the
hospital saying to come and pick up the mother, the tumor is gone and she is
in good health.

I hear many miracles such as these.

And now, we should all take upon ourselves, bli neder, to learn two Halachot
of Shemirat Halashon every day and pray with great kavana. A prayer that
comes from the heart through a holy mouth is immediately accepted by
Boreh-Olam and prevents many troubles and tragedies and brings Yeshua to the
world. In the future, each one of us will be shown how many wonderful
doings, how many people we saved. And thanks to you, my dear righteous
women and girls, we will have the Zechut to bring Mashiah Tzidkeinu soon in
our days.

Yehi Ratzon that Hashem will fulfill all of your wishes for the best,

B. Kanyevsky
For Zikui Harabim,
Each one who receives this letter should try to make at least 50 copies and
spread them for your own success, and you shall be blessed by Hashem, amen
An[d] whoever exceeds that amount will be blessed directly from the mouth of
1) Like a true golem, I will react to last things first. Thus, the last portion of the letter, which states that
For Zikui Harabim,
Each one who receives this letter should try to make at least 50 copies and
spread them for your own success, and you shall be blessed by Hashem, amen
An[d] whoever exceeds that amount will be blessed directly from the mouth of
is a bit over the top. First, I should note that it appears below Rebbetzin Kanievsky's signature, without a P.S., and so quite plausibly came from someone else. This postscript is essentially a segulah for success and blessing from Hashem for forwarding the email to everyone in your Inbox. Not that the letter itself does not contain segulah content, but that was for learning Chafetz Chaim and for guarding one's speech, not for forwarding a chain letter.

Indeed, many chain letters contain such a section at the end, threating horrible things will happen if you fail to forward it and wonderful things to happen if you do. Thus, for example:
You must send this on in 3 hours after reading the letter to 10 different people. If you do this, you will receive unbeleveably good luck in love. The person that you are most attracted to will soon return your feelings. If you do not, bad luck will rear it's ugly head at you. THIS IS NOT A JOKE! You have read the warnings, seen the cases, and the consiquences. You MUST send this on or face dreadfuly bad luck.

*NOTE* The more people that you send this to, the better luck you will have.
See how the pattern of this chain letter matches the pattern of other chain letters. Indeed, "The more people that you send this to, the better luck you will have" roughly matches the additional claim that
An[d] whoever exceeds that amount will be blessed directly from the mouth of
Of course, here there is a plausible reason for this -- by forwarding this, or photocopying and mailing/distributing it, you are being mezake the rabbim. But the claims being put forward -- that you will be blessed by Hashem, and for mass-spamming it, will be "blessed directly from the mouth of Hashem" is a bit excessive. Whoever wrote this, whether is was the person who began distributing it or Rebbetzin Kanievsky, cannot make such promises of a blessing directly from the mouth of Hashem.

2) Now that I've discussed the postscript, on to the actual text of the letter, in order. The first paragraph reads:
Dear women and girls! We need you to help us in prayers! The situation in
Eretz Yisrael is very difficult. Lately we are suffering terrible losses,
many orphans and widows from different diseases. My husband, The Rabbi, was
asked what could be the reason for all these tragedies. The Rabbi opened a
Gemara and said it's because of foul language. And how can we correct
ourselves? Only by watching what we say.
Stating knowledge of the why of various tragedies is not my own personal cup of tea, coming from a more rationalist and less mystical background, but there are surely support for such, as we find in various gemaras explaining reasons for various tragedies, and find various personalities throughout Jewish history making such claims about the reason for tragedies.

So someone asked Rav Kanievsky the why of many modern personal tragedies (men dying from illnesses, leaving orphans and widows). He did not respond off the cuff, purely from his mystical knowledge. Rather, he knows about his own contemporary society, and apparently looked up a gemara which stated reasons for various personal or national tragedies. (There are such gemaras, such as in Taanit, where various reasons are given for drought (one is people saying lashon hara), or Shabbat 33a, which states that askera (croup) comes to the world because of neglect of tithes, or (on the next amud) because of slander.

Unfortunately, we do not know which gemara Rav Kanievsky found, because this letter is directed towards women and girls, and they will not respond to (or have knowledge of) gemaras, but rather will respond to inspirational stories of segulas and miracles.

However, assuming that this letter is accurately translated, Rav Kanievesky said that what caused this was nivul peh, foul language. Foul language is not the same as lashon hara, slander and tale-bearing. Yet, she extrapolates from a statement that it is because of reason X, to promote strengthening in a distinct cause Y. And if the problem is indeed nivul peh, then stopping lashon hara should not end the problem.

3) Skipping over the anecdotal evidence for the moment, the nature of the campaign is interesting. I've seen a bunch of programs lately targeting women and girls specifically in the areas of Shmiras haLashon and Tznius. (Here is one such example.) I haven't seen that many emails encouraging women to take up, or announcing a new set of shiurim in, say, learning a sefer of Nach with Malbim, just fuzzy subjects of this sort.

I don't know who comes up with the ideas, but the thought that this (tznius and shmiras halashon) is the end-all and be-all for Jewish women, and what they must have endless education about, seems to betray an attitude of considering women sex objects that talk too much. Thus, we must curb the sex-object aspect by teaching, and teaching, and teaching modesty, and curb the excessive talking with instruction in Chafetz Chaim. And perhaps women have internalized this attitude, who think this is what must be stressed and stressed.

4) The business with the segulas as a reason for learning shemiras halashon bothers me somewhat.

We keep Torah and mitzvot because it is the proper thing to do, and because Hashem commanded us to do it. We don't do it to ward off or prevent cancer, or in order to get a shidduch. This is transformation of mitzvot into segulot, which Rambam was against in the case of mezuza.

Sure, the Torah says there are rewards for mitzvot. Thus, perhaps we can see a segula in this week's parsha, parshat Ki Teitzei, where it says:
טו אֶבֶן שְׁלֵמָה וָצֶדֶק יִהְיֶה-לָּךְ, אֵיפָה שְׁלֵמָה וָצֶדֶק יִהְיֶה-לָּךְ--לְמַעַן, יַאֲרִיכוּ יָמֶיךָ, עַל הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-ה אֱלֹקֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ. 15 A perfect and just weight shalt thou have; a perfect and just measure shalt thou have; that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
Though of course this is the written reward for doing a mitzvah, and the purpose is surely to be ethical and to listen to Hashem's command. And in the Shema, the promise of rain in its proper time, or lack thereof, for listening to commandments. And in the gemara, various maladies come to people and the world for specific deficiencies. But that is the natural sechar veOnesh, or else reward from Hashem.

In this case, the protection is not really coming from Hashem, but from another power -- the ascended, deceased spirit of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan. He promised to intercede up in Heaven on behalf of anyone who learns this specific sefer that he wrote (presumably, learning his Mishna Berura would not help), he will be his/her defender in heaven. Read another sefer on lashon hara, you don't get this defender.

While this was a clever way to encourage people to learn his sefer and so learn the laws of lashon hara, perhaps this was ill-advised, because of the way it has been taken and corrupted. A person has many defenders and accusers in heaven, and it certainly is good to have the Chafetz Chaim as a witness/lawyer for the defense, this is not the same as an assurance that therefore everything in your life will go well. The Chafetz Chaim did not mean this as a panacea, a cure-all for every malady and life difficulty. He did not say, "worried about a shidduch? Learn my sefer and I will guarantee results. Sick relative? Learn my sefer and I guarantee that they will recover." (He guaranteed no results, while Rabbi Segal and Rebbetzin Kanievsky certainly appear to do so.)

And, once he passed away, he is a soul in heaven, and doing an act or ritual in order to get him to intercede and get results, rather than praying and doing good deeds and hoping for a positive outcome from Hashem, may not be the best thing in the world. There are not two authorities in heaven, such that one can go to one of them (the Chafetz Chaim) and be guaranteed results. For those who find praying to angels theologically problematic, this may also be theologically problematic. Compound it with the fact that it is a segulah, and we may well have idolatry and superstition.

Such practices are more accepted in the chassidic world, with its Rebbe-centric attitude. And we have praying (to Hashem) at the graves of tzaddikim. Personally, I find such segulot theologically troubling.

A related issue: In Kupat Ha'Ir mailings, they often promise yeshuos from all sorts of maladies (the same laundry-list given above) in exchange for supporting Kupat Ha'Ir and thus the families of the poor Talmidei Chachamim in Eretz Yisrael. These mailings are over-the-top and look like they are selling segulot. Infertile? Send a check for X dollars and Gedolim will pray for you that you will have a child. Here are a bunch of anecdotes proving it! I've thought it possible, perhaps probable, that Rav Kanievsky did not personally read these English leaflets and approve the content and approach. If his Rebbetzin expounds the same, I may well have to rethink that attitude.

5) These anecdotes are indeed inspiring. But such anecdotes, and statements, have been used to support other causes as well.

For example, the tumor disappearing anecdote above. There is another story which I saw on an imamother thread.
I know of a litvish lady that was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She went with her husband to the Skulaner Rebbe that promised her that if she shaves her hair, she will be helped. She did it that night and when the time came for her to have surgery, lo and behold, her tumor was gone. Needless to say, all her siblings shave their hair since then.
Thus, shaving the head (together with other head coverings such as a tichel) has now become a general segulah for warding off cancer.

Rabbi Falk, in an article which Ariella of KallahMagazine pointed me towards, writes, also based on the Chafetz Chaim, that all are modern troubles come (not because people are having nivul peh or not learning enough of the Chafetz Chaim's sefer) but because women are wearing modern wigs. He basis this on the Chafetz Chaim:

He bases his causal analysis on the fact that the troubles of those times gave rise to a feeling that Hashem had chas vesholom forsaken and abandoned His people to the wicked devices of their enemies. The only place where the Torah writes the frightening words "Hashem will forsake you" is in conjunction with pritzus, as the Torah writes: "Velo yeiro'eh becho ervas dovor veshov mei'acharecho - - Hashem shall not see nakedness on you, [for if He does] He will forsake you" (Devorim 23:15). The Chofetz Chaim therefore pointed an accusing finger at pritzus as the cause for the severe troubles that befell Klal Yisroel in those times.

We are at present in the throes of a seemingly endless string of tzoros that threaten to engulf the yishuv in Eretz Yisroel. The nature of these troubles is such that we once again feel totally abandoned and helpless. In line with the Chofetz Chaim's words just quoted, we must assume that a serious lack of tznius is at least one of the main underlying causes for the present condition.

Nowadays, Orthodox women certainly do not leave their hair uncovered. However, many wear hair-coverings that are totally inappropriate and, according to a wide range of poskim, constitute an issur min haTorah.

This is an extension of the Chafetz Chaim who was talking about not covering hair at all, and we do not know that the Chafetz Chaim would say this even today. But it all comes down to lashon hara and/or tznius.

Elsewhere, I have heard that all our modern troubles are coming from talking in shul. Or for not opposing the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem strongly enough.

6) To the point of using segulot in this way, there is a general danger that these rituals imbued with meaning and potence approach witchcraft. As the Talmud says, "the best of women practices witchcraft."

In the same context, we have that "the
best physicians are destined for hell." Some commentators explain that this means specifically the best physicians, because due to their skill they are filled with arrogance and will then accidentally/negligently kill someone.

I would suggest that the same may be read into the statement about the best of women. Specifically the best of women. These women crave spiritual growth and exploration, and unfortunately, not as much room and opportunity is afforded them as is afforded men. A man can become a rabbi, he can lead prayers, become a mohel, etc. For a woman, she is excluded from a lot of the formal established ritual.

As a result, she creates new ritual, or imbues new meaning in the ritual she does have. Thus, challah-baking and taking off challah, reciting people's names as she does it. Your typical Jewish baker does this mitzvah but does not make it mystical, and recite names of cholim, nor do I think women throughout Jewish history did this. At these gatherings, occasionally, a woman gives over a shuir, telling about the mystical significance of all the 7 components of the challah -- the flour, the water, the yeast, the salt, the sugar, the oil, the egg. This is new ritual because of religious longing which is unsatisfied.

The same goes for the fetishizing of a word, Amen, writing books about how it is a cure-all for all of life's ills, and making Amen parties where women make brachot and say Amen to each other's brachot. Women's prayer groups have their own halachic issues, but this more-acceptable alternative may be even more problematic. It is, in some circumstances, the meeting of a coven.

So too for many other segulot, and encouraging women in adopting these segulot, as segulot, I find somewhat problematic. Even for worthy aims such as shemiras halashon and tznius.

7) I am sure Rebbetzin Kanievsky is a tzaddekes. I don't know whether she took College Statistics, though. :) I didn't, myself.

There is something called "regression towards the mean," which basically means that is you have a given sample at the extremes, the next time you look at that same group at the extreme, it will move towards the average.

To cite the heilige Wikipedia:
Regression toward the mean refers to the fact that those with extreme scores on any measure at one point in time will probably have less extreme scores the next time they are tested for purely statistical reasons. Scores always involve a little bit of luck. Many extreme scores include a bit of luck that happened to fall with or against you depending on whether your extreme score is extremely high or extremely low.
The people coming to a Rebbe or a Rebbetzin for brachot are at the extreme. They self-select for that, since people who are doing just-fine, thank you, or just fabulous, do not come for a bracha or segulah.

On average, at any point, there will be people with problems and people doing fine, and people doing wonderfully. Thus, while on average, people might be having just the same amount of troubles, if you only look at the people who previously were at an extreme, many will have moved towards the mean.

Thus, the fact that people in difficult circumstances performed a segulah and we have anecdotes in which many of their situations improved is not necessarily evidence that the segulah works.

The same is true, by the way, for drug treatments, and people working on such studies need to watch out for this, and look at the entire population at the extremes and the middle.

Also, she is likely only going to get ecstatic call-backs from people for whom the situation improved and so the segulah "worked." In cases in which it did not work and the person died, or the daughter became an old maid, she is not going to get an angry call-back that she recommended the segulah and nothing happened. Those people will give up, or will try other sugulot, etc. Some of them might keep coming back for repeated advice until they also give up, such that she could get some feedback, but not everyone. Thus, the data she has is incomplete, since it is self-selective on two levels.

Besides which, the woman with the tumor was presumably being treated by doctors as well, though the way the story is told over, one might get the impression that the tumor was growing and growing, and 2 days after they began the segulah, though the doctors did nothing, the tumor miraculously disappeared into this air.

And the infertile woman may have been asking for a blessing/segulah together with, that is to bolster, fertility treatments she was trying at the time. And there is also a placebo effect -- a woman's emotional state does have an effect on ability to become pregnant, and knowing that she had a sure-fire segulah may have aided her in becoming pregnant.

I am not stating that in these two cases, for sure, it was not a miracle. But I am pointing out that we do not have enough information in these second-hand accounts of success to be able to fully evaluate it. And as such, it bothers me to use such anecdotal evidence to create a segulah with troublesome religious/theological import.


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